This is the kind of meal that encapsulates the real joy I get from cooking; picking out a few random bits and bobs from the fridge, using up leftovers, rescuing something that was once fresh but is about to become very much the opposite… And ending up with a really tasty dish that’s all of my own making.

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No idea what you’d call the result of this particular combination of ingredients (a deconstructed Spanish omelette, maybe, if I felt like being poncy? Or fried eggs and fried potatoes, if I was going to be basic), but it consisted of a pile of boiled purple potatoes left over from my pre-birthday fish supper the other night, half a red onion from the tomato salad with the same meal, some verging-on-very-floppy baby sweet peppers and a tomato that really had seen better days.

Some herby seasoning, a couple of eggs, and here is a frying-pan-full-of-delicious-randomness. There are pretty much unlimited variations on this dish, depending on what you have, but I’ve listed a few suggestions below.

Serves 1
olive oil
1/2 red onion (or 1/2 brown onion, or 1 shallot, or even a couple of spring onions), roughly chopped
leftover boiled potatoes (as much or as little as you have), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic
2 baby sweet peppers (or 1/2 red/yellow/orange bell pepper), roughly chopped
1-2 medium tomatoes (or a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved), cut into quarters and core removed
1 tbsp basil leaves (or 1 tbsp parsley), chopped
pinch of cayenne (optional)
2 eggs (or more, or fewer, depending on your appetite)

1 Heat a good glug of olive oil in a frying pan (preferably one with a lid). When hot, add the onion, and cook over low heat until soft. This can take up to 10 minutes.

2 Add the boiled potatoes. You can turn up the heat to make sure the potatoes crisp up a bit, but keep an eye on it and don’t let the onions burn. When the potatoes have started to brown, turn the heat down and add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir and put the lid on.

3 Add the peppers, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the peppers are soft. Then add the tomatoes and most of the basil (or parsley), stir gently to combine, then put the lid back on. Cook for just a couple of minutes. You want the tomatoes to cook through, but not break up, so don’t move them around too much.

4 Make a well in the middle of the veg mix, tip in the eggs, then put the lid back on. Make sure the heat is quite low, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Check the eggs and if the whites are set and the yolks still soft and runny, sprinkle over the last of your herbs, season with a little salt (and pepper, if you haven’t used the cayenne) and serve.

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A big tart

July 14, 2010

The other day I got a marriage proposal. Not from the man currently awaiting my arrival in Istanbul. But from the lovely Lene, my friend whose spare room I’m currently occupying.

We’d spent a very profitable but tiring morning selling off my excess baggage at Chiswick car boot sale, then returned home to make tea for our friend Helen and her two kids, Eric and Agnes.

Despite having got up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, we quickly made cake, scones, sandwiches, salads and dips – and it was our impressive teamwork that led Lene to suggest I should not, in fact, move to Istanbul, but stay in London and marry her instead. I told her that if things didn’t work out with Süleyman, I’d definitely consider the offer!

And I’m certainly loving the way we’ve just clicked living together – easily sharing the cooking and household chores, and having someone to talk to when the practicalities of moving to Istanbul become a little overwhelming. In return, I’ll make sure I’m around to cook for her boys when she wants to go out (and to send Dexter to bed before he falls asleep in front of the television with his Xbox in his hand).

Which is what I did last night. Lene, being a bit of a yoga bunny, headed off for an evening of bending into strange shapes, while I fed Dexter (Wesley still making very rare appearances, thanks to a summer of parties stretching ahead of him).

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dexter is a pretty adventurous eater (especially considering he’s a young vegetarian), and is always willing to try new dishes. But it’s still something of a challenge for me to come up with veggie meals that he and the rest of us will enjoy.

So, a trawl through my trusty folder of cut-out recipes came up with this delicious-looking French tomato tart, which I’d seen on David Lebovitz’s blog. I decided to buy the tomatoes from Lina Stores, the lovely old Italian deli on London’s Brewer Street, and thought, rather than the French goat’s cheese David suggests, I’d stick with the Italian theme and try some of that country’s cheese instead.

A chat with the lady behind the counter resulted in me buying a nice big chunk of flavourful Fontina, which I thought would be the perfect foil to the sharp mustard base of the tart. (Dexter tried a slice of it while I was preparing the tart, and declared it his second favourite cheese, after brie!)

The beautiful, plump plum tomatoes combined with some fresh herbs direct from Lene’s garden gave the tart a truly summery flavour. So, on the side, I kept it seasonal and made a crunchy radish and gherkin coleslaw with mustard mayonnaise, and one of my all-time faves, cauliflower, fennel and celery salad with a lemon dressing, from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. We also ate several slices of my latest loaf of sourdough bread, slathered in lots of butter.

This is the kind of food I could just eat mounds of in the summer – and, luckily, Dexter felt the same. Although, we did manage to leave a few morsels for Lene…

A plaice in my heart

April 12, 2010

A couple of years ago, my mum and I did a fish cookery course down at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage in Dorset.

We were shown how to prep any number of different fish, from mackerel and sole to crab and oysters. Once we amateurs had done mauling these poor creatures about, they were taken off to the kitchen where the professionals cooked them up for us to eat.

It was a really fun day, but I have to say, I haven’t really used any of the skills I learned since then. However, when I bought this lovely, bright, fresh plaice at Devon Fish in Borough Market on Saturday, and the guy asked me if I wanted him to fillet it, I decided I really had to have a go myself. And, I don’t think I did too bad a job of it!

I reckon, as long as you have a really sharp little knife and take things slowly and carefully, a flat fish like plaice is the ideal thing to start your filleting with.

I’d bought the plaice to go with a recipe I recently discovered on The New York Times website for leeks with anchovy butter. I’d always thought I wasn’t very fond of leeks, but have recently come to the conclusion that what I didn’t like was leek and potato soup, so have been making up for lost leek-time recently.

I simply pan-fried the plaice fillets in some olive oil, with a little salt and pepper, and served the leeks on the side. I had substituted the shallots with red onion as I’d forgotten to buy the former. And, although the onions were slightly crunchier than they ought to have been, the dish was really delicious.

However, it was a little heavy on the butter for my taste, so I might try it with a mix of butter and olive oil next time. But there definitely will be a next time.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite dishes was my mum’s kidney and mushroom sauté. I’m sure it was probably one of her stand-by meals, but I loved it. Which makes it all the more surprising that I very rarely cook it for myself. So, when I found some forgotten lambs’ kidneys in my freezer a couple of days ago, it made me think of this childhood favourite.

I had some mushrooms in my fridge, and was all set to cook my mum’s sauté when I remembered that, years ago, I once cooked kidneys in a tomato and basil sauce. Now, given the option of a tomato-based sauce or a creamy sauce, I choose the tomato one every time. Not for health reasons, but purely because I adore cooked tomatoes.

So, I fried half an onion, sliced thinly, in some olive oil, along with a chopped clove of garlic. The kidneys were chopped up into fairly small pieces and added to the onion once it was soft. Some sliced chestnut mushrooms followed, then half a tin of tomatoes, a teaspoonful of my pul biber paste from Istanbul, and a little seasoning.

Once it had simmered for 5 minutes or so, I added a few chopped basil leaves, and – just because it was there and needed using up – a handful of chopped parsley.

My mum always served her kidney and mushroom sauté with rice, but I thought, with the tomato and basil, that pasta would be the thing to eat with my version – which it was!

A spicy Sunday brunch

February 7, 2010

With a lazy Sunday ahead of me, guess what I decide to do with my time? Yep, cook. Starting with brunch, of course. (Actually, I’m only calling it brunch because it involves some serious spice, and I don’t want to put too many of you off by suggesting you eat chillies for breakfast!)

This is a dish I’m sure I got from a recipe somewhere, but it’s gone through so many incarnations, that I can’t actually remember what the original was. Anyway, today’s version incorporates the pul biber/tomato paste mix I got in Istanbul, instead of the fresh chillies I’ve used in the past.

I fried half a thinly sliced onion until soft, then added half a tin of tomatoes and a teaspoon of the spicy tomato paste (but you can just use some dried or fresh chilli – however much or little according to what you can stand on a Sunday morning). I added enough water to make it fairly saucy and let it simmer for a few minutes to incorporate the flavours.

To add some substance, I threw in a large handful of chopped parsley, a couple of chopped basil leaves, then seasoned with a little salt. I made a well in the middle of the sauce and broke in an egg. With a lid on the pan, I left the egg to poach in the tomatoey liquid for about 4 minutes.

Some bread in one form or another is essential for this dish, to make the most of the lovely runny yolk and spicy sauce.